‘Fighting, kissing, sexing, marrying, drugging, awkward fake sleeping and death’. All this in one play? This seemed a lot for New Theatre secretary Nick Medhurst to promise. Well I think they pulled it off…
There was definitely a festive air hanging around the New Theatre this Wednesday evening (as well as a couple of fencers and jugglers). The last play of the year, and the first Shakespearean production, Romeo and Juliet certainly provided a stylish ending.
Colour: Red for the Montagues and yellow for the Capulets. White for the star crossed lovers, and black for the warring parties. The set design and costume really did help to bring Romeo and Juliet to life. Both the actors and audience members sported swirling face paint designs, whilst the stage had been carefully painted with peacock feathers and an intricate crest. Colour was particularly effective in providing a contrast between the beginning of the play and the end. Twice the audience was plunged into a sudden blackout. Whilst the spotlighting for the crypt provided an eerie setting for the final deaths.
Music and dance: Dancing and fencing their way through the play, the actors we constantly on the move (no wonder they needed an interval to catch their breath). Romeo and Juliet was carefully staged. I particularly liked the way the play was spilt by musical interludes. Take for instance the scene where Romeo is an unwelcome guest at the Capulet’s feast. Here he is distanced from the dancing couples. In his love for his enemy’s daughter he stands alone. The fighting scenes were also carefully choreographed; they were energetic and violent, but not messy. Director Lizzie Bourne chose to reinforce the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language by allowing her actors to repeat lines one by one, or talk over the top of one another. This was especially effective in scenes of grief where the voices of the actors intertwined; crying ‘O woe is me’. By combining the minor Capulet characters (such as Juliet’s mother) into an ensemble or chorus, Bourne emphasised the judgement that falls on Juliet for refusing to marry Paris.
Playfulness: Throughout the play grief and violence is contrasted with the playfulness of the actors, who never seem to be without their juggling balls or diabolos. The final tragedy begins when Romeo misses Friar Lawrence’s note assuring him that she is not truly dead. But even in this scene a member of the ensemble (Fran Rylands) plays with the forgotten note, it becomes a paper aeroplane, or it is thrown around the stage. This created a brilliant tension. The light and shade of Shakespearean language, the contrast between the seriousness of the lover’s plight, and the lighter sexual humour was deftly managed. The base humour of Mercutio (played by Lee Denny) and the ramblings of Juliet’s nurse (Elle O’ Rorke) provided a welcome respite to stronger overtones of passion and death.
All in all I was impressed. The actors knew the play inside out; they really bought Shakespeare’s text to life. It was a very enjoyable performance.
By Anne Moore